Adventures in Clothesline

Last night I posted on Twitter that I was so excited about what a great lesson I’d had in 6th grade, but that I felt restricted from sharing said enthusiasm with the other teachers in my school. Sam reached out and asked if I’d like to write about it for this blog, so here I am! Thanks, Sam!

I’m nothing if not the world’s worst procrastinator. When I had looked through what I would be teaching in 6th grade this week, I knew that ordering rational numbers was on the docket. Immediately I thought of the fine clothesline work being done by some MTBOS members and I knew I should jump in. Last year around this time, I discovered that Tyler at Math Fireworks had a bunch of sets of cards pre-made for ordering purposes. Since I live or die by the last minute, guess who was printing them out an hour before 6th grade walked in? Needless to say, much thought was not given to duplicates, range in numbers, etc. (I know, I’m a terrible teacher. So much for that goal of the year – to focus on being intentional…).

Sixth grade came in (sidebar: they are the single most delightful and enthusiastic class I have ever had. I taught them as 5th graders last year, so I have a whole year with them under my belt). I told them we were going to try something I’d never done and that it might be a total failure. They responded with comments like, “oh well, I’m sure it will be fun,” and “but we’ll still end up learning something!” The best. So, since I was not well prepared, I started talking to them as I was in the process of finding clothespins (which I knew I had) and tying the clothesline to the handles of the cupboards along the back of my room. I had given a student a stack of cards from Tyler’s blog to pass out around the room. He has 5 or 6 sets on his site. I think I printed 4 and just used them all. Why not? So each of my students had a stack of 4 or 5 cards. I only had 50 clothespins, but I knew this wouldn’t be an issue due to duplicates. However, we decided to quickly do a number talk to figure out the total number of cards – 4 x 17 (plus 3 extra). We rushed through a bit and only took 3 or 4 strategies, but that’s ok. Then the fun really began.

I basically just told them that we were going to take all the cards and put them on the number line. What should we do first? Off we went into a totally meaningful and learning-filled conversation. Ok, fine, I may have threatened at one point, “if you don’t stop talking while I’m giving directions, we may just pull out the textbook instead.” (I told you, I’m a terrible teacher).

Soon students started sharing ideas such as, we need to start with zero in the middle. Then, we should figure out the greatest and least numbers and put those on the line. Next was, well we should find anything equal to an integer and space those out as benchmarks… and on and on. I’ve been trying to work on being very precise with language and it was apparent throughout the conversation – heavy focus on absolute value, opposites, integers, etc. Awesome. At one point, a student had a card with ⅚ and her neighbor had 6/5. They neighbor said they should switch a card so she could have the opposite numbers. She raised her hand and said, “I’m really confused now. [explained the situation] But opposite are on different sides of the zero, but 6/5 and ⅚ aren’t, so are they opposites?” This gave us time to pause and think more about the precision and talk about what the neighbor meant vs. what he said, as well as how could he have used the word opposite in that context, but correctly. The whole thing was fascinating.

As we were working through some outstanding thinking and questioning, one student just busted out, “we are going to remember this so much better than the textbook.” (I’ve trained them well, right?) I told them I was going to tweet that quote right then and there (they are fascinated by my twitter friends and always want me to share with them and ask them their questions!).

When class ended (we weren’t even close to finished), I was thrilled and so were the kids. They knew we would continue today and I told them to be ready to share their thinking and strategies about some next steps.

I walked into the faculty room just wanting to burst and share my joy. Some other teachers were already having a conversation, so I wasn’t going to interrupt. But then I also realized, when I get super excited about a lesson, they really just tell me I’m a nerd and I need a life outside of math, so that made me hesitant to share anyway. I also didn’t want to come off like “look at me, I’m so great,” because it really was dumb luck and the direction of this particular class that made it so extraordinary. I ended up just walking into the office and sharing with the secretary. She hates math, but totally appreciates my enthusiasm and gets that it’s important to be so excited about how and what I’m teaching. I felt better after being able to share, and of course, tweeting about it!

We kept at it today, and more and more great questions and issues arose. I had hoped to finish. Our class felt like it passed in about 10 minutes instead of 50 today. So tomorrow we will conclude and I know it will be something the kids will never forget! (I mean… hopefully!)

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One thought on “Adventures in Clothesline

  1. This is AWESOME. I can totally relate too. I’m in my first year of teaching math and already am becoming known as the math geek haha! Would love to connect, since I’m also teaching 6th grade and can use all the help I can get. 🙂 I’m lorigaud on twitter.

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